For those of you who have pondered the modern urge to combine seemingly unrelated contraptions into a single object, further obfuscation is provided in this sale. Suggesting that the whole may be less than the sum of its parts are a combination match-safe and pin-cushion and a picture-frame easel/backrest. A pool- and billiard-cue chalker and two automatic swings show a predilection for creating complicated machinery to perform simple tasks, and a couple of pre-nautilus resistance exercise machines testify that not all nineteenth-century Americans were burning off enough calories chopping firewood and plowing fields to maintain their desired figures.

air chair

But perhaps the most bizarrely useless invention from the collection is a "Rotating Blast-Producing Chair." Patented by Leopold Richard Breisach of New York City in 1858, this delightful invention is designed with bellows fitted behind its legs that fill with air as one rotates in the seat. The air then presumably shoots up tubes on each side, which direct cooling gusts of air at the sitter' s head. (The caption to this item in the sale catalog, written by Mr. Petersen himself, suggests that "perhaps someone should go into production on a full-sized chair and distribute it to heads of state around this troubled world.")


Several objects, modest in appearance, suddenly take on grotesque significance when you read that one of them is, for instance, an "Improvement in Directors for Uterine Support." Which end of the cylindrical multi-parted device is intended to be inserted first is only the first unpleasant speculum speculation that comes to mind.


The reproductive health field is surprisingly well-represented in this sale, which includes uterine supporters, trusses, pessaries (look it up), vaginal syringes, anal specula, and catheters. Possible gender bias notwithstanding, the pessaries and uterine supporters are among the most disturbing. One pessary has winglike attachments, calling to mind the advertisements for modern maxi-pads. The main differences being, of course, that Always maxi-pads with wings are not made of lacquered brass and they' re not supposed to go inside.


A less horrifying "advance" in science is displayed by a regulating mechanism for incubators that looks like an enclosed metal crib attached to the inside of a clock mounted to a swing-set. A prototype for a life-saving chair rounds out the pseudoscientific achievements available for sale. Made of galvanized tin, it is designed to float upright after being tossed overboard into water, thereby greatly increasing the comfort of the victim of a sinking ship as he or she awaits rescue.


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